Notes and Editorial Reviews
HEAVEN & EARTH: Pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
Kenneth Weiss (hpd, org, vgnl)
SATIRINO 132 (64:40)
ANONYMOUS, BULL, BYRD, FARNABY, MORLEY, RICHARDSON, TALLIS, TISDALL, TREGIAN THE ELDER
Back in 2011 (
35:2), I gave a very favorable review to a release by Kenneth Weiss of pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (Satirino SR111). I praised his performances, the selections, his choice of several especially appropriate instruments, the sound, and the liner notes.
Then, I made a mistake I repent of to this day. I ended my review with, “Dare we hope that Weiss and Satirino will be moved to produce a second volume?” That’s rather like saying “Who can doubt that we’ll have a great vacation?” right before walking up the gangplank to the Titanic, or “Why, Bill, wouldn’t you think it will be performed down through the ages?” right before the original production of
Love’s Labour’s Won
. (In fact, I strongly suspect Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, said just that to him. It’s probably why he only left her their second-best bed in his will.)
But now we do, in fact, have a second volume by Weiss, very much along the plan of the first. That is, it provides an overview of the curiously satisfying collage that forms the collection: very short dance and song arrangements and originals, lengthy variation sets, fantasias,
fantasias (following a fad started by composers who latched onto a theme John Taverner placed in the Benedictus of his mass
Gloria Tibi Trinitas
), and sacred pieces. There are very well-known works provided, such as Farnaby’s
, the catchy little
by the ever-popular Anonymous, and Byrd’s magnificent
. To the other side lie
Heaven and Earth
(tentatively assigned to Francis Tregian the Elder) and a fantasia on
of Tallis. John Bull of course is represented, by four works that show the range of his stylistic proclivities—one, a lengthy
whose recourse to unusual rhythmic patterns and varied, seemingly unstable voice entries makes for an extraordinary experience.
Weiss points out that all the music in the collection could hardly have been expected to be performed to good effect on one kind of keyboard instrument; so once again he sensibly supplies three. This time, instead of two harpsichords and a virginal, we get an organ, a virginal, and harpsichord. The organ is a Flemish positive built between 1696 and 1702 for St. Pierre’s Church in Nielles-les-Ardes: a fine, intimate instrument with a not unexpectedly woody sound. The harpsichord is actually a claviorgan, built in 1579. (The arms displayed on the case indicate that its original owner was Anthony Roper, a grandson of Thomas More.) It has two 8’ registers and a 4’ one, and a soundboard that extends over the complete interior—so the upper registers actually run through the soundboard, with lower slides invoked via hand stops. The organ is played through a coupler system, though it isn’t heard on this release. The sound is very full and spacious, but without any of the hardness I associate with Italian models. (It is truly a joy to hear this in the
.) Finally, Weiss had the happy inspiration to use a mother-and-child virginal set for some of the smaller, more whimsical pieces. These are typically 6’ virginals that house an enclosed 3’ keyboard as well, or instruments in which the 3’ keyboard is housed on top of a 6’ one. With some of these instruments, it is possible to play either keyboard or both coupled together. The modern instrument Weiss employs is based on a 1623 Ruckers model that allows for this. So we get, for instance, the mellow mother in Tisdall’s
, the sweet-sounding child in Tisdall’s
, and the brighter combination in the anonymous but irresistible
. This kind of division (pardon the pun) has been done before, but not always to such good effect.
The performances are idiomatic and properly varied according to genre: rhythms emphasized and firm in the shorter, dance-like material, the phrasing looser, the upper and middle voices given more prominence in the fantasias and variations. The playing on this disc and its predecessor are far away better than Pieter-Jan Belder’s lackluster, unidiomatic series for Brilliant Classics.
Does this album deserve purchase? Well, of course it does. And if my wife and I return for another lengthy vacation in the Carpathians next year, I will make a point to stop at every relevant shrine along the way, and pray for a follow-up to this release.
But it isn’t a wish, or a hope. No, sir.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal